I grew up on United Mileage Plus and so I admit it’s probably just familiarity that makes United’s ways of doing things ‘make sense’ to me, and other carriers’ practices seem odd.
Take prioritizing upgrades, there’s a seeming rationality to status, followed by fare basis, and then final tie-breaker of time added to the list.
In contrast, Delta will treat full fare passengers of any status above their top tier members on a discount fare. At Delta, you aren’t their loyal customer, you’re your fare on any given day. At least that’s how it strikes this United-centric flyer.
And Delta’s program really doesn’t work for me, being based in DC, since at my home airport there are so many folks flying on government fares. Those government fares, in spite of being heavily discounted, are treated as full fare tickets. A government fare flying Silver trumps a higher elite who may even have paid more for their non-full fare ticket.
(Update: [Slaps forehead!] I really shouldn’t have been so surprised last week to learn that Delta’s Diamond members (with 125,000 qualifying miles) ‘only’ clear their domestic upgrades 85% of the time given this rule…)
But what I really don’t understand is American’s different upgrade buckets.
American has two different buckets for domestic upgrades from coach to first class — one for ‘stickers’ and a separate one for miles. Elites using their earned 500 mile upgrades (or Executive Platinums with their unlimited complimentary upgrades) are upgraded out of ‘X’ inventory. Anyone, elites or general members, can upgrade out of separate ‘A’ inventory.
At United there’s one upgrade bucket, and a separate bucket for award first class. It’s almost always the case that upgrades are easier to get than awards, the airline would rather take a paid coach ticket and miles for the first class seat than more miles without the cash for that same seat. I get that. (A couple of years ago there were specific routes, like transcon flights, where that was temporarily reversed — it could be easier to get awards than confirmed upgrades in advance — but that anomaly is long gone).
At American, it’s much much easier to get mileage upgrades than elite upgrades. The mileage upgrade ‘A’ bucket is widely available, most of the time on most flights, even when the X bucket is empty. Looking for some elite upgrade space on a flight tomorrow, I’m seeing several flights with A seats left but nothing in X, and surprisingly seats available in ‘Z’ — award first class.
American would rather let a general member redeem their miles for a first class award seat than give it to an elite. American would rather let that general member spend their miles on any fare (plus a cash co-pay) than give it to an elite.
Perhaps because American only waives ‘close-in award booking fees’ for their elites, we have the answer why awards (for free tickets and mileage upgrades) would be easier than complimentary upgrades — American is picking up the cash co-pay and the close-in booking fee.
But coming from United it does seem odd that American favors its generally members willing to come out of pocket with more favorable inventory than its top tier elites.
I’m going to find it interest (or shocking?) to see how a future combined United/Continental prioritize upgrades since the Continental model has long privileges upgrades for full fare passengers, offering their elites buying full fare tickets the opportunity to confirm upgrades at booking (subject to availability). Because to me and my prejudices, built on my very first elite status experiences when I first started traveling for business lo those many eyars ago, United’s system will always be what makes sense and everything else an illogical abberation.